Decision-making groups are most productive when all participants are confident enough to contribute their ideas, opinions, and even conflicting concerns. But too often, we see outliers disappear into the background as they allow dominant personalities to assert their stance. Many people choose to maintain their silence to suppress dissent. But while disagreement may be avoided, organizations ultimately suffer from potentially dooming decisions that were uncontested.
It becomes the leader’s role to break down the barriers that prevent different points of view from being heard. Here are steps to create opportunities for collaboration and productive conflict by promoting dissent.
Inform, don’t force
Coercion isn’t a healthy motivator, particularly when people are meant to collaborate in decision-making groups. Don’t tell participants what to do; rather, provide them with the information they need to begin brainstorming. Pressure is the killer of creativity. Instead of telling your team what is expected of them to contribute during the meeting, share with them the goals of the project. Give them the facts, such as the expected timeline, budget, and resources – allowing each participant to think realistically.
Invite outliers to share opinions
Dominant and extroverted personalities are almost always the first to share their ideas. However, the confidence to speak up doesn’t always make the proposal better. Don’t miss opportunities by ignoring the outliers who may be trying to avoid conflict by simply agreeing with the ongoing conversation. Go around the table to ask for everyone’s opinions. But instead of asking, “do you think this is a good idea?”, ask specific questions related to potential outcomes or roadblocks if the idea is accepted, developed, and implemented.
Create opportunities for respectful dissent
Creative conflicts in decision-making groups arise for two reasons: professional experience and personality differences. However uncomfortable, disagreement can lead to productive brainstorming as long as it remains respectful. Therefore, companies that develop a work culture that values respectful dissent are the ones that benefit most from collaboration. It starts with promoting diversity and creating a safe environment that doesn’t push consensus. Employees need to recognize that their opinions are valued. In a brainstorming session, invite dissent by randomizing it. A good tactic would involve colored cards or sticks of different lengths. Whoever picks a specific card or shortest stick has to oppose the idea on the table – even if they agree with it. This allows the team to explore all potential outcomes.
Put it to a vote
Voting can help speed up meetings and allow teams to move on to the next item on the agenda quicker. The voting method should depend on the company’s level of trust, such as a voice vote or a show of hands. Again, the problem with getting general consent is running the risk of someone not speaking up. For critical decisions, there should still be a discussion after the vote. Invite those opposed to the idea to share their concerns and strategies to reduce risk. By doing this, you can help prevent disagreement that is driven by personality differences.
As a former CEO and COO, I have built leaders and their teams for over 30 years. I now count top organizations among my grateful clients.
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